By John Cobourn, University of Nevada Reno
Cooperative Extension faculty Steve Lewis and John Cobourn recently worked with two non-profit sustainability groups to show the new film, ‘Saving Snow,” in Carson City, Nevada in late March. The film documents the economic impacts of climate change on communities that rely on winter recreation for their economy. You can view the trailer here.
Lewis and Cobourn worked with the GreenACTnv Board and the Carson City chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby to show the 53 minute film twice at the Western Nevada College in Carson City—once in the morning and once in the evening. They also organized a forum after the evening showing. This panel discussion featured a snow scientist, a ski area executive and a State government official in order to gain a local perspective and encourage interaction with the audience.
Both Carson City and Reno, Nevada are less than an hour from the many Lake Tahoe ski resorts, and this meant that local interest in warming winters was high. The attendance at the two showings was impressive. Twenty people attended the morning showing, which did not have a forum. The evening showing, followed by the forum, drew a full house of 130 people!
The Forum speakers were obviously a considerable draw. The first speaker, Meteorologist Dr. Ben Hatchett of Reno’s Desert Research Institute, shared information from his recent journal article, “Winter Snow Level Rise in the Northern Sierra Nevada from 2008 to 2017,” which determined that during winter storms in the northern Sierra Nevada, there was a 450 meter increase in average median snow levels between the five-year periods spanning WY2008–2012 and WY2013–2017. This increase in the elevation at which precipitation turns from snow to rain is correlated with a lower snow fraction (ratio of total snowfall to total precipitation) being recorded at various elevations.
Of course, Hatchett’s article is of interest to downstream communities as well as to Sierra ski areas. Regional warming, including increasing sea surface temperatures off California, is “expected to produce wetter, stronger atmospheric rivers, that in turn will contribute to shallower snowpacks and a greater potential for rain-on-snow events and flooding. These changes also may limit drought recovery during occasional wetter years that occur during persistent droughts. Warming background temperatures combined with changes from snow to rain leads to decreased water availability in spring and throughout the warm season.”
In addition to Dr. Hatchett, the Forum featured the Director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Brad Crowell, and Andy Wirth, the CEO of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows Ski Areas near Lake Tahoe. Wirth quipped that while he is concerned about the effects of dwindling snowpacks on the ski industry, he is much more concerned about the effects of climate change on human and natural communities throughout the world.
Other nearby chapters of Citizens' Climate Lobby, in Reno and North Lake Tahoe, also held well-attended showings of the film, both followed by forums. This nonpartisan group, which educates citizens about a bold mitigation proposal called the “Carbon Fee and Dividend,” reaches out to Republicans as well as Democrats. Their proposal is defined at www.citizensclimatelobby.org.